Why Kids Don't Change Problem Behaviour (Even When It's To Their Advantage) - Part 1

Why Kids Don't Change Problem Behaviour (Even When It's To Their Advantage) - Part 1

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Sometimes our students get stuck in cycles of negative, challenging behaviour - even when they've been offered support and intervention programmes in school. That leads to poor outcomes for the individual - emotionally and academically - and often results in disrupted learning for their classmates.

In this episode, we talk to Tom McIntrye, Sean Turner and Kenny Hirschmann about the Stages of Change model. They explain why some pupils are resistant to change - and how to use this information to dramatically increase the success of your SEMH interventions in school.

Important links

See the full 1 hour video of the interview with slides.

Visit the Behavior Advisor website for more behaviour strategies, ideas and interventions.

Join our Inner Circle membership programme: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/inner_circle.php

Get our FREE SEN Behaviour Handbook: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/SEN-handbook.php

Join our FREE Classroom Management and Student Behaviour FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/school.behaviour

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Show notes / transcription

Tom McIntyre  0:00  

It's all about the student's internal motivation, the emotional readiness to change his or her errant ways to more pro social conduct, it incisively pointed out and educational truism to me. We can implement a behaviour plan, evidence based research, proven strategies with strict fidelity, but those strategies are destined to fail when our behaviorally misdirected young people lack the internal drive to change their present ways.

Simon Currigan  0:31  

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to another high octane episode of school behaviour secrets warning if you're prone to car sickness or you simply have good taste, you might find our formula of school behaviour issues and childish podcasting leaves you feeling more than a little nauseous. Don't forget to reach for the sick bag stowed beneath the chair in front.

Emma Shackleton  1:32  

Another delightful introduction there, Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:34  

That's the voice of my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:37  

Hi, Simon. 

Simon Currigan  1:38  

Emma, I'd like to open the show by asking you a quick question

Emma Shackleton  1:42  

 Go on then. What is it this week? 

Simon Currigan  1:44  

I'd like to know according to research, there are five top reasons most people resist change in the workplace. So this is about adults rather than children. How many of those five top reasons for resisting change can you guess?

Emma Shackleton  1:58  

Oh, good. I do like a top five question. Let's see. So why do adults resist change in the workplace? Okay, number one, it's effort. Number two, it's scary, because it's unfamiliar. Number three, they've always done it this way. So why change? Number four? Can't think of anything else? Number five, tell me the answers.

Simon Currigan  2:24  

Well, the answers were number one was a lack of awareness for the reason that there needs to be a change. So they're not sure of the reasoning behind it. Number two was the change meant that the employees or role had to change. So they had to start doing a slightly different job. Number three was fear of the unknown. I think we've all been there. Number four was a lack of support from or trust in management. And number five, that the employees were excluded from the decision leading up to the change.

That makes sense, actually, people don't like to feel that change is being done to them. 


Emma Shackleton  2:58  

So yeah, those answers do make sense. Okay, how is that all relevant to today's episode?

Simon Currigan  3:03  

So in today's episode, I interviewed Tom McIntyre, who you may know from the behaviour advisor website, and that's behaviour spelt the North American way, Kenny Hirshman and Sean Turner. And they've been sharing with me their research on how the stages of change model or the transtheoretical model applies to school aged children.

Emma Shackleton  3:23  

So that's one of the things that sounds complex, but when you hear it actually makes perfect sense, it describes the different stages that people go through when they are going to make a behaviour change in their lives, and explains why some people are successful and why others aren't.

Simon Currigan  3:41  

Yeah, absolutely. And if you're listening to this, and you've tried to run an intervention with a group of kids in school, and it worked for some of those children, but not for others, this podcast might be able to explain why that happened. 

Emma Shackleton  3:54  

That's useful, okay. So we can use this approach to help us match the right intervention to the right child at the right time, which means that we will then get the best outcome.

Simon Currigan  4:05  

Yeah. Now, this model is used a lot in the adult world to support behaviour change for decades, but it's not really used in the educational world to support kids. So today, we're going to do our bit to put that right. As we get to hear about what their research has uncovered so far,

Emma Shackleton  4:22  

Definitely one to listen to then, if you want to improve the success rates of your interventions in school. Just before we play that interview, I'd like to ask you a quick favour. Small actions can have a big ripple effect. So if you like the information that you hear in today's podcast, and you find it helpful or useful, please consider sharing the podcast with a couple of your friends and colleagues in education. That way, you will be helping us on our mission to reach other like minded individuals who want to do their very best for the kids that they work with. And that is bound to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And now, here's Simon's interview with Tom McIntyre, Kenny Hirshman and Sean Turner.

Simon Currigan  5:07  

And I should say in advance that Tom, Kenny and Sean shared so many insights and practical takeaways about the stages of change model during the interview, that we weren't able to edit this down to one episode without losing lots of great ideas and information. So this will be a two part episode. So today I'm very excited to welcome three guests to the podcast, which is a first for behaviour secrets. With me today I've got Tom McIntyre, a professor of special education and leader of the graduate level behaviour disorders training programme at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He is also the creator of the behaviour advisor.com website. We also have Kenny Hirshman, manager of the Frankfort Centre for Learning and scholarly technologies at the Hunter College School of Education. He's also a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University in Adult Learning and Leadership. And I've got Sean Turner, who is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter College within the School of Education behaviour disorders programme and teaches at a transfer high school serving over aged under credited youth in the New York City Department of Education, Tom, Kenny, and Sean, welcome to the show. It's great to have you here.

Tom McIntyre  6:26  

Thank you. 

Kenny Hirshman  6:26  

Thank you.

Simon Currigan  6:27  

So today we're going to talk about the transtheoretical model, sometimes called the stages of change model. And I'd like to start by asking briefly what it is and why it's important for teachers and school leaders to know about

Tom McIntyre  6:40  

oh, good day, Simon, let me address that question. But first of all, I'm certain that I speak for my co presenters when I say it's an honour and a privilege and a pleasure to join you here today and add to your impressive listing of podcasts on your Beacon School Support website.

Simon Currigan  6:55  

The privilege is all mine. Believe me, I've been wanting to talk about this topic for a long time. And I know you've been working on this for some time, and you haven't quite been ready to sort of bring it into the public arena. So I'm really excited to hear about your research today.

Tom McIntyre  7:07  

Indeed, our team is enthused about the transtheoretical model that identifies a person's level of willingness to change their persistent maladaptive, counterproductive behaviour pattern based on that assessment, then we use prescribed general approaches of intervention to change those behaviour profiles for the better. As educators we can make use of this model with some modifications to expand that willingness in our intervention resistant students who display antisocial behaviours to work with us on replacing those harmful ways, with more pro social ones. We'd like to tell your audience members all about this model and how it applies to reaching and teaching kids with acting out behaviour disorders. Our students who are persistently oppositional, defiant, disruptive, destructive and aggressive. We're talking about kids who were assigned diagnostic labels such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, or as phrase in the common vernacular, tough kids. While one's willingness to change their errant behaviour patterns exists on a continuum ranging from get lost, I ain't doing it and you can't make me to hey, I'm all in let's get going. The model segments this motivational spectrum into steps or what are called stages, and depending upon the identified stage of emotional readiness to change one's ways certain recommended approaches, known as processes are then activated in order to move an individual to increased levels of motivation, and eventually spurring them to take action to change their ways for the better. We professionals working with these individuals can then implement interventions from our preferred theoretical model or our own professional skill set as long as our interventions are in accord with those particular intervention avenues, those prescribed processes for that particular stage of readiness to change. And that's a derivation of the name Transtheoretical. It's an umbrella under which other models or professional orientations can fit. It cuts across and includes all theoretical models, and that it explains the change process and then lets the interventionist select from the interventions that they keep handy in their professional tool bag so it doesn't matter where you hang your professional cap on a theoretical orientation hat rack. You can be an advocate or a practitioner of applied behaviour analysis, the cognitive behavioural social, ecological, psycho educational or clinical models. The process of change is always the same, as explained by the transtheoretical Stages of Change framework. It's just the implemented practices that vary, we simply have to keep in our mind that our interventions must match the processes, those intervention avenues that are just designated for the stage of willingness to change in which the young person presently operates, depending on the stage of readiness professionals implement their preferred strategies that are in sync with the predetermined processes identified for that particular stage. So that's a quick glance at the model Simon, and would you like me to go a bit more in depth?

Simon Currigan  10:42  

I'd like to unpack some of what you say, because you said an awful lot there, you squeezed an awful lot in so in my head, I'm thinking of kids that I've worked with. And there's one phrase that jumps to mind when I'm working with these kind of hard to reach really resistant kids who don't want to engage with interventions, then that's it can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. They've got to make a decision for themselves that they want to change 

Tom McIntyre  11:02  


Simon Currigan  11:03  

 And what the stages are saying, correct me if I'm wrong here, I just want to test my understanding, is we can go from very demotivated and oppositional to making an active decision I want to change and I need some help. And there's a set of stages that we go through. And the kind of intervention or the process that we use to support the child kind of depends on their stage of motivation, where they are on that scale. Is that correct?

Tom McIntyre  11:25  

Yes, it is correct, according to the model.

Simon Currigan  11:28  

So how was this model developed? Where did it come from, originally?

Tom McIntyre  11:31  

Well, the stages of change model was developed back in the 80s and 90s by two psychologists Prochaska and DiClemente. And it was based on their clinical work with adults who engaged in practices that risked their health and their safety. This included unhealthy behaviours ranging from overeating to failure to take their medication to smoking to alcohol and illicit drug abuse. And since that time, 1000s of studies have demonstrated the models utility in promoting positive change in an ever expanding number of areas. The related to our discussion today, some of the models applications have involved delinquent youth, and interestingly, teachers who were using coercive means to manage their students behaviour in the classroom. Well, to sum it up, it is the pre eminent model in clinical settings, serving adults helping them to change unhealthy habits. There are 1000s of studies that support this intervention models effectiveness, and given its success with changing, ingrained and intervention resistant behaviour profiles, our team has been working to determine how we can bring it into the school building for use with educators and by educators and support staff. We're working to help kids with behaviour challenges, make better choices,

Simon Currigan  12:50  

We're talking about a model that's going to really solid track record over decades. I just be interested in your opinion as to why don't we know about this in education? Why hasn't it made the jump yet to being common practice? Because we are working, as you say, with kids who are resistant to change, often adults who are resistant to change. But what's your personal opinion?

Kenny Hirshman  13:12  

Well, I think Tom explicitly said it. But I think you said it before Simon, maybe one of your other podcasts or work on the model. This model has been used predominantly in health related issues such as smoking which is non negotiable, we know what that behaviour is, right? And they usually have some form of counsellor or counsellor support. So that is similar to the educational model, because often this goes back to your first follow up question with Tom too. In the stages, it's very easy to know when a kid says I don't want to do any I don't want to change. Okay, now the kid says I want to change. And it's more than motivation. They need some help with that. So they've been able to find really success when it's about smoking or weight loss, because it's more than just I want to lose weight. Now, how do I do this? So in those kinds of clinical positions, the model has been really effective. There's gaps in it being applied in educational setting, from my personal view, is because behaviours or rules in school are not as black and white as smoking, right? Smoking is smoking, either get rid of it, or you're not. But there can be a lot of subjectivity, including the teachers, teaching styles, the kids learning styles, other variables, there's many, many different variables. So I think from that aspect, this is why we are very interested in looking at these gaps. We know it works in the health model. So when we go into the educational model, what are the gaps, and how can we address that in our work? And so I think we can talk a little bit about that later on what we're finding about that because we are finding new gaps as we go on. Certainly Tom alluded to there's a gap in the peer reviewed literature of this model in educational settings.

Tom McIntyre  14:55  

I'll just talk about those educational settings. This model has been applied in schools in limited ways used to promote healthy habits among the kids, safety, anti bullying efforts and increasing academic achievement. But oddly, as you were saying, Simon, it hasn't yet been applied to students who display disruptive behaviour disorders. Those school based externalise behaviour patterns that are marked by opposition in defiance and disruption, destruction, aggression, and oddly at least when I read about the model, my first thought was that this applied directly with persistent acting out actions, kids with diagnostic labels like Oppositional Defiant Disorder and conduct disorder, and also our learners who bring the urban street corner culture into the schools and students who haven't yet been assigned education labels, for one reason or another, but their behaviour interferes with their learning or the learning of others or the teacher's ability to teach the lesson. When I first read about it, I mean, it was this professional epiphany explained what's behind the curtain when this often witness scenario pops up in the schools. Two kids present with similarly described problematic behaviour problems. The administration of an evidence based intervention works well with one young person just like in the research studies, but then it fails miserably with the other. The transtheoretical model helped me to more fully understand the dynamics behind the success or failure is all about the students internal motivation, the emotional readiness to change his or her errant ways. To more pro social conduct. It incisively pointed out an educational truism to me we can implement a behaviour plans, evidence based research, proven strategies with strict fidelity. But those strategies are destined to fail when our behaviorally misdirected young people lack the internal drive to change their present ways.

Simon Currigan  17:04  

When I think about this, as well, and I don't know what the situation is in the US. But often schools work with families that have dysfunction in them or difficulties with parenting. They offer parenting programmes or parents support programmes that have if I'm being kind, very mixed levels of success, often very poor levels of success. When you look at the research that was originally done on those programmes, they have very high levels of success. And part of me wonders whether that parent who's been asked to attend the programme just hasn't made that decision yet, not at a point where they're motivated to change, they're going because they've been sent rather than making the personal choice that we want to change things at home and make them better. And I know it's not strictly within the student teacher relationship. But a child's family background, what they're experiencing at home does have a massive impact on their ability to succeed in school,

Kenny Hirshman  17:54  

I think it's a great point, Simon, because I was going to add to what Tom was saying, this model gives language common language that can be used by parents and teachers and school psychologists or counsellors. And often what I see as a problem is a student or a child is working with their counsellor, and the counsellor is using maybe not the transtheoretical model, but some form of stages of change. And the teacher is not understanding because unlike smoking, right, kids still have to go back into the classroom, the kids in the classroom, but might be in one of those earlier stages where they're saying I'm trying, but they're struggling, and to a teacher, they're getting frustrated, and they're saying, Oh, you're full of baloney buddy, you're not taking this seriously, that triggers something else, that's all of a sudden, but I'm doing the intervention, but you triggered something else. So the intervention can't work. So I see this model is a hope that it could bring more conversations between parents, counsellors and teachers, and as you pointed out of that came up in talking is who really needs to do the changing? Is it the teacher or the kids sometimes? And you know, we're not cashing in or trying to cause controversy there. But I think the model does allow us to all look at ourselves as we're interacting in this not just okay, this student is the problem, the behaviour, what's causing the behaviour, looking at our own role as parents or teachers or counsellors in how are we affecting that behaviour. So just a different way to look at kind of like you're driving off the road, you don't need to stop the car, you just kind of drive back onto the road. I think this model helps us drive back onto the road. In some ways. That's what we kind of look at, versus we have to create something new.

Simon Currigan  19:35  

It is interesting that we should be applying these things to ourselves as the adults in the classroom because I imagine well, I know as an adult, if you've got a child who's presenting like difficult behaviour and you send them out of the room. That's very reinforcing for the teacher because you did something in the behaviour stop. That doesn't help the relationship between the adult and the child that doesn't deal with the problem. Unless we have self awareness as the adult. We're part of the problem. And we need to get past that to achieve change. We've danced around what the model actually is. Tom, would you like to walk us through? We've talked about kids and adults go through a series of stages. Could you talk us through what those stages are briefly and what they might look like in school?

Tom McIntyre  20:15  

Yeah, this is a good time to do that. Yes, exactly. The Transtheoretical stages of change model explains the transitional path that individuals travel from their present modus operandi to a new and better response set for responding to circumstances. So imagine a staircase with a ground floor and four steps the ground floor is where just about everyone stands. If someone asked us to change our ways of doing something our ingrained manner of doing things is comprised of the best ways we found thus far for handling recurring situations in life. We see no reason to change to other ways up even if we did see benefits, is it really worth the time and effort to master them? At this level of readiness that was just described, we're in what's known as the pre contemplation stage pre contemplation. That's where our students with acting out behaviour disorders are emotionally situated, they see no need to switch out what works presently for them to another socially acceptable behaviour that meets the function of their present actions. We all know some kids like this the ones who defend their errant actions, blame others, tell you to take a long walk off a short pier and or failed to respond positively to the evidence based strategies listed in their behaviour intervention plan. So the question arises, how do we reach and teach kids on this level? Well, the stages of change model designates certain approaches referred to as processes that will create an awareness of the problem help the student develop ownership of it, and question their defences for their present actions. This acknowledgement that a problem exists moves them up a step to the contemplation stage.

Simon Currigan  22:09  

So the kids it pre contemplation pre contemplation I imagined means before thinking before really accepting, you've got a problem. So would these be the kids that blame the teacher, blame the school, push blame back whenever you talk to them? It's always someone else's fault. Or you're getting at me, those are the kinds of kids here, would they be kids stuck in pre contemplation?

Tom McIntyre  22:29  

Yes, we asked you to change the way you eat a steak to move your fork to the other hand other than a knife to the other hand, and cut it only with backward horizontal motions. You'd say Why? I know how to eat a steak. This is my way of doing it as Mark Twain and I'll probably misquote him, but he said that the only people who want change are wet babies, it's working for us, it's the best thing we found so far. And then teachers often to end or a school staff, we try to implement interventions, and the youngster is just not ready for it. We have to build to that we have to take them from the I aint doing it stage to the contemplation stage where they're no longer certain that they're present ways of the best life path to follow, they begin to ask questions like, Well, what else could I do? and they observe the actions of others more closely. During this stage, they're weighing the pros and cons of switching out their present ways. For a new repertoire of acting and reacting. We match our preferred interventions to the contemplation stage and the indicator processes in order to promote the person's desire to actually undertake transformative action. If those methods we implement match the processes that were described. For the contemplation stage, the scales will tilt the decision to move further into the change process, the motivation, the readiness, is now there to step up another tier to the preparation stage. The changers as they're sometimes called, the people who are undergoing that change, increase their emotional readiness to actually engage in these new actions. When they become fully mentally committed. When the benefits of changing are recognised as being greater than the drawbacks. They will then leap up another step to the action stage. And before we talk about the action stage, let me back up the bus just a little bit, the preparation stage and that's one area that Sean Kenny and I need to modify. As educators we know that kids don't suddenly and proficiently adopt a new operational way of acting just because they decided to do so. Teachers have already suggested, sometimes demanded that they show more appropriate classroom behaviour and the misbehaving kids might have really wanted to fit the classroom structure and follow the rules and procedures. But it was is all for naught as with academics are learners, however motivated just don't absorb subject matter because they're told to do so where they want to learn. That's why teachers lessons first demonstrate what to do before having the students practice with partners or in small groups. And then when they're more adept at the steps and the processes, we have them perform the learning task on their own. So our research teams perceives a need to add a component to the mental commitment of the preparation stage and skill acquisition, we teach.

Simon Currigan  25:35  

Are you talking about a coaching process almost the way we would coach kids to do anything in school, if you want to teach your child to ride a bike, you don't give them a PowerPoint on angular velocity and then say you're set off you go, it takes practice and build up is that where you're going with it?

Tom McIntyre  25:49  

Yes, in the traditional model, in the clinical model with adults, it was just getting oneself mentally prepared to say, I'm changing. And then they jump into the action stage where we're saying you need to know what you're going to do you need to become more proficient at it, you need to practice it in social skills groups, and in the coaching, role playing that sort of thing, so that the youngsters develop some proficiency and actually displaying their behaviours and are more comfortable than doing it in real life.

Simon Currigan  26:20  

So we prepare the students mentally and in terms of their skills, what comes next, then they're going to take action. What does that look like?

Tom McIntyre  26:27  

Yeah, of rebounding after the action stage, it's the next stage in the change process. Having become mentally and physically prepared, they're now ready to engage in these newly acquired actions during actual school based happenings. As you might have already guessed during the stage, we're engaging in support strategies that align with the processes that accompany this behavioural tier. And that matching of interventions with the process is designed for use with that stage progressively leads to proficiency in the new ways allowing the student to step up to the final stage of the change process. Maintenance, keeping these freshly mastered behaviour response patterns intact, and keeping the phenomenon of what's known as relapse, relapse to the old ways at bay. And certainly the stages are not as distinct and separate as the model describes that however, our team recognises that there's overlap or blending of stages, much like a rainbow in which the colours are not actually segmented, but rather they transition from one to another.

Simon Currigan  27:34  

People are messy, emotional things, I guess. And they're not robots, they don't move through things in stages. mechanistically is that what we're saying?

Tom McIntyre  27:42  

Indeed, so what we're saying our team is talking about how the change process might be more akin to the depiction of climbing a ladder, in which a person can have individual hands and feet on different rungs at the same time. For example, a student of ours can be in the unsure contemplation stage while participating in the Social Skills Practice lessons, in order to gain a sense of how easy or difficult it would be to change. That's the preparation stage. And when seeing a well liked teacher, or some peers from the social skills practice group out in the hallways showed us the rehearsed response. That's the action stage. So we could be in different stages at different times. And realising too, that those stages are not actually segmented. So let me stop at this point assignment and allow you to bring in my esteemed colleagues a little bit more.

Emma Shackleton  28:37  

Oh, that's really interesting. And using this approach called have a real impact on the success of interventions in your school, especially as children get older, making sure the child is at the right stage of change before rushing in with an intervention.

Simon Currigan  28:52  

And what you heard today was just part one of that interview. We'll be bringing you Part Two next week. But this two part episode actually comes with a bonus. There's a video that goes with the unedited version of our entire conversation, where Tom has graciously added slides to help explain the content. To watch the video, head to the YouTube link in the episode description. The complete interview lasted about an hour long.

Emma Shackleton  29:19  

And don't forget Tom's website www.behavioradvisor.com With behaviour spelled the American way without the U, I'll put a link to that in the episode description as well because it's full of useful SEMH and behaviour resources for teachers.

Simon Currigan  29:34  

And if you work with children with challenging behaviour, I'd just like to draw your attention to our completely new and revamped SEND handbook.

Emma Shackleton  29:43  

Yes, it's a hugely expanded document available as a free download that can help you to link the behaviours that you've seen in your classroom with possible causes such as autism, ADHD, and trauma.

Simon Currigan  29:57  

The idea here isn't for teachers to try and make a diagnosis because we're not qualified to do that. But if we can link behaviours we see in the classroom to possible causes quickly. It means we can get the right help and get early intervention strategies in place as soon as possible.

Emma Shackleton  30:13  

And what's great is that this new updated version of the handbook even contains fact sheets on conditions like PDA, ODD developmental language delay, foetal alcohol syndrome, and more. It's a free download. So go to our website www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. click on Free Resources near the top, and we'll also put a link in the episode description.

Simon Currigan  30:38  

Finally, if you've liked what you've heard today, then subscribe to make sure you don't miss next week's episode, simply open up your podcast app and tap the subscribe button or the Follow button. As it's now calling Apple podcasts. You'll feel as satisfied subscribing as a man who's reached into a biscuit tin full of what he believed was rich teas, only to find himself a big fat jammie dodger at the bottom of the barrel very much pauper to King. That's a big win. 

Emma Shackleton  31:04  

Oh I do love a jammie dodger. All that's left for me to do is wish you an excellent week in schools and to say we look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour secrets. Bye 

Simon Currigan  31:17  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)